The rationalist approaches the peacock and sees, possibly at first glance, beauty. But, after the beauty has worn off and the tomatoes have all been eaten off the vine, the scientist hears nothing but the screeches and sees nothing but dinner. The writer, however, sees the King of the Birds.
The writer writes because, when the rationalist is done with all the defining and the categorizing and the mystery of life has finally been “revealed” and exhaustively understood, more mystery is found underneath it. Flannery O’Connor, in Mystery and Manners, says that if you are asked to explain what you are writing about, the only sensible answer is to say, “Read the story.” If what we write about can easily be summed up in a one-sentence theme, then why have we wasted our time writing for pages? It is, in fact, impossible to divide the theme from the story, just as it is impossible to divide the incarnated Christ from God Himself. The mystery cannot be understood without the body, the tangible, just as the concrete cannot be understood without mystery. Flannery writes that stories cannot be limited to character motivation or right theology. The writer “has to be concerned with these only because the meaning of his story does not begin except at the depth where these things have been exhausted." This must, I believe, be the litmus test I use to assess my own writing, though O’Connor would laugh at the irony of my applying human formula to measuring Mystery.
Mystery, Flannery says, is an unflinching look at the true condition of humanity and all of its horrors, and finding that the God who evaluates it all has deemed it worthy to die for. Religion doesn’t limit the artist; it, in fact, frees the artist to see the fullness of the human experience. If God accepts it all, then who are we to look away. As a doubt-filled believer, I can firmly take hold of this call to not try to understand it all, but to tell all of what I see, particularly in the deep recesses of my heart and mind. The role of uncertainty is possibly one of the main tools the Christian artist must use in interpreting life through art.
Manners would then be the what of what I see: the daily routines, the accents, the figures of speech, the clicks and tics, my conflicting thoughts, the sinner and the saint in each character. A whole character does not live since there is no such thing on the earth. The broken, whole-enough or thoroughly shattered person lives, not because the writer makes her live, but because something else has brought her to life. As soon as my writing takes a turn into certainty, I have surely let my writing die. I will leave conclusions and explanations to the scientists and theologians. I will push off the false burden of the fate of souls and I will concentrate on the burden of creating art.